A marriage in 1862 between two rural Franklin County Missouri residents went on to change America. Phoebe Apperson from St. Clair, wed George Hearst from Sullivan. She was only 18 and he was 40, but the marriage lasted a lifetime and resulted in among other things, a huge fortune, a publishing empire, a castle, and the first free kindergarten in the United States. We celebrate the life of Phoebe Apperson Hearst during Women’s History Month.
A one-room school teacher in her early adulthood, Phoebe was intellectually curious and wanted to travel far beyond the boundaries of Franklin County. After she and her husband made a fortune in mining and real estate, George set his sights on politics and was elected first to the California State Legislature and then to the United States Senate in the late 1880s. While on a trip to Europe, Phoebe researched innovative educational programs in Russia and throughout Europe.
Birth of a Publishing Empire
Phoebe and her husband George only had one child, a son they named William Randolph Hearst. William was influenced greatly by his mother’s thirst for knowledge and he traveled with her extensively. He eventually went on to publish the largest chain of American newspapers in the late 19th century.
While in Europe, Phoebe collected extensive information about castles and how they were constructed to last centuries. This eventually led to the Hearst Castle, now a popular museum and tourist attraction. The Castle has been designated as both a California and National Historic Landmark located on the Central Coast of California in the United States in San Simeon on 127 acres, part of the land originally owned by Phoebe and George Hearst. Phoebe hired a female architect to design the structure.
Free Kindergarten, the PTA, and More
Despite Phoebe’s fortune, she was still both a teacher and a learner at heart. Even more importantly, she used her massive fortune to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Recognizing the value of early childhood education, Phoebe financed a school for the training of kindergarten teachers and founded the first free kindergarten in the United States in 1887. A decade later, she helped to found the National Congress of Mothers, which later went on to become the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). She also became the first woman Regent of the University of California, and provided numerous scholarship opportunities for women.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst: Her Legacy Continues
Succumbing to influenza in 1919 at the age of 77, Phoebe Apperson Hearst was a woman of intellect, curiosity, tenacity, vision, and action. She used her talents, skills, and means to make a difference in the lives of others, many of which are being realized even today. That’s why the Phoebe Apperson Hearst (PAH) Historical Society in her hometown of St. Clair, Missouri purchased land and constructed a replica of a log one-room school such as the one she once attended. The organization also constructed a brick museum and developed the grounds into a charming park-like setting. The Hearst Foundation provided seed money for the organization and the funds have always been managed by East Central College in neighboring Union, Missouri.
OneMissouri salutes Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson Hearst during Women’s History Month.
One Missouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.
Top Photo Credit: bahaiteachings.org